We have leapt a generation in this piece. But you know how sometimes a story will get stuck in the front of your brain and revolve around in there until it is down-loaded to clear the way for another. This is a persistent memory, but only of a moment really. So I have taken you from the beach house where I grew up, across about 10 years and over the hill then 15 miles out onto the plains to an old farm house right in the middle of an orchard that I rented, when I found myself recently motherless and newly divorced with little children.
I was sitting at the Big Table in that big farm house that we lived in after my status change to solo mum. I was single for the next 15 years, reluctant to marry again when the children were small, so I learned to live with the innocuous much despised label ‘solo mum’. I was a very young Mum, in fact I had started as an even younger Mum because I had become pregnant (in the usual way) as a teenager before I married, was sent to live with the nuns and adopted my first son to another family and then still grieving really, married a nice boy when I was 20 and we were divorced 7 years later after having had four more children. (Wow all that in one sentence). None of this has ever been a secret so I don’t mind you knowing. But I don’t believe in dwelling on stuff so here is Daisy and her cat last year.
Often my children and I (plus the one I lost who found me again, we call him Elder Son) will talk about that time as though we were all young together. Which in fact we were. This day at the table I was writing a book called Potatoes are your Best Friend. (Which of course never saw the light of day because I was easily distracted in those days.) It was hard but satisfying work raising a good number of kids on your own, with a very little amount of money! I did not have a lot of work and with a whole passle of kids as they say, I did not have a lot of time to work either so we got to be very good at making ends meet and yes the things I can do with a sack of spuds! So writing down how I did it was a natural step for a scribbler.
It was a late summers sunny day in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. The farm house was cool inside with high ceilings and enormous sash windows, the windows sat high in the walls of the house about 6 feet above the garden if you looked in from the outside. There are no fly screens across NZ windows like they have here in the US but the children were forbidden from climbing through the windows because the ropes and weights and pulleys that helped raise and drop the windows were dreadfully ancient, and those windows were so heavy, I would tell the kids that if the little rope that held up the weight broke and the window fell it would chop their heads right off. (Mothers got to love ’em.)
It was school holidays. The boys were outside, literally screaming with joy around the yard, these lanky little blonde boys their legs browned and lean inventing as they went along and arguing about the rules that they had made up 5 minutes earlier. I was writing in my book. The baby (Beautiful Daughter -a toddler) was sitting on her end of the Big Table, painting on her paper, probably painting The Big Table actually. But she was quiet and happy, why interrupt. Everything washes in the end. Or not.
Thinly sliced potatoes were in the big flat bottomed wok, frying gently in late summer butter, (late summer butter is always paler than spring butter) sizzling with onions, sliced sausage and parsley, soon I would whisk the eggs and chop the tomatoes and make an omellette for lunch. Serving it in wedges with home made bread. Peace crept softly into the room.
The Big Table was always called the Big Table as long as I could remember. It was solid oak (still is actually as it lives with Roo now) and could seat 14 hungry bodies if all the little kids were jammed into an old church pew that ran along one end. It was a wide long table. My dad had extended it lengthways using two old oak wardrobe doors, and strengthened it with steel girders. Mum matched the oaks by staining it with walnuts from our tree.
When I was first married I visited home with my children often. If Mum was well enough to come upstairs to eat with the whole family, the Huge table bulging with people and noise, her cat would come too. He was huge and fluffy and very grand. He stalked behind Mum with his tail straight up and poised. He had a special stool that was placed beside Mum’s chair at the Big Table. With studied disdain this cat would glide up through the air and land exactly where he meant to, no skidding, just a precise landing, lower his furry bottom to the wooden stool, arrange his tail with a flick and there he would sit all through dinner just watching, tidy and ever so genteel but definitely superior. Every now and then Mum would place a small piece of meat on the stool before his paws. He would ignore this offering for quite some time as any God would. He would narrow his eyes gazing around the table daring anyone to comment. Then he would reach his large wooly head down, to his motionless feet and it would be gone without even the trace of a swallow. As though maybe he was inspecting his beautiful foot, or nudging the stool testing for cleanliness, his nose an imaginary white glove.
When my mother died, the table was winched down over the second story verandah and onto the back of a truck and brought out to me in my farm house. It had twelve high backed oak chairs that did not match, I loved that they did not match.
In our farmhouse that day, the windows were propped wide open, it was warm and then quite out of the blue, everything just shifted down a gear, it was a clear change, the sun felt warmer, the air calmed, my head tilted as I listened to the almost forgotton sounds of my whole family together, watching the cat across the past. They became muted, the past receded and the fear that had sat in my gut every waking moment for years now was gone. And you have to know all of what I have just told you to understand how this gear shift was a wonderful thing, our world was whole in that disconnected truest of moments, you know that feeling, like rare shafts of golden transient light. A bell tolled in the soundtrack in my head calling out 12 noon and all is well. And I sat at the Big Table inside that lovely transient bubble of sublime drifting away from my work, just watching that cat across those years and knowing with a knowledge as small as a mote of dust as it drifted past, that we were going to be alright. On our journey through life. Peace was there, waiting.
Then I heard the shout and then the rattle of a ball bouncing across the roof of the house. I heard Senior Son ( Sam), shouting orders, then a scuffle below the window. Then I saw third son (M) suddenly appear at the open window beside me, climbing up off Sam’s shoulders onto the window sill, then he reached down and Sam appeared to run up his back like a monkey and take his place on M’s shoulders leaning up to the guttering. M then very very carefully stretched his long arm and grabbed my baby boy Roo, who was probably four years old, by his bouncing outstretched hand and flung him like a frisbee up to Sam who caught him and hurled him up onto the roof. You can imagine the lift in my eyebrows, still in my transparent bubble of happy, as I saw my youngest son flying past the window. This was all done you understand in one fluid series of movements. Like those little Russian circus performers who make pyramids of themselves with the Hup and the Hup, punctuating each landing on each shoulder with a sound. So there was a son on the forbidden sill, a son standing on his shoulders and another son being catapulted bouncing from one to the other through the air and up onto the roof.
I woke from my daydream with a start and before I could shout put that baby down! Roo had landed on the roof with a confident thump, run across the hot tin, retrieved the ball, thrown it down and they did the whole thing in reverse. One by one, throwing each other down then leaping off the sill into the garden with the crack of small plants, slap of bare feet and grunts of satisfaction. Then full of laughter they just ran off, resuming the game without pause.
Now, I thought, as I put down my pen, and stood to go to the stove, ‘how often have they done that?’